WASHINGTON — The prospects of a government rescue for the nation's foundering automakers dwindled Thursday as Democratic congressional leaders conceded that they would face potentially insurmountable Republican opposition during a lame duck legislative session next week.
At the same time, hope among many Democrats on Capitol Hill for an aggressive economic stimulus measure all but evaporated. Democratic leaders have been calling for a package that would include help for the auto companies as well as new spending on public works projects, an extension of unemployment benefits, increased food stamps and aid to states for rising Medicaid expenses.
But while Democrats said the stimulus measure would wait until President-elect Obama takes office in January, some industry experts fear that one or more of the Big Three automakers will collapse before then, with potentially devastating consequences.
Despite hardening opposition at the White House and among Republicans on Capitol Hill, the Democrats said they would press ahead with efforts to provide $25-billion in emergency aid for the automakers. But they said the bill would need to be approved first in the Senate, which some Democrats said was highly unlikely.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., the chairman of the banking committee, said he did not believe there would be sufficient Republican support to get the 60 votes needed to move a bill forward.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has yet to schedule a legislative session to consider the new loans as Democrats keep hunting for the votes to pass it.
The White House, in resisting calls for aiding the automakers, has warned repeatedly about not throwing taxpayer money at companies that may not be salvageable.
Acknowledging the Bush administration's opposition, Dodd said Democrats had to keep in mind that the Treasury Department already has some authority to help the finance arms of the auto companies but has been reluctant to use it.
Passing any legislation to aid the auto companies would require 60 votes in the Senate. Democrats now control 51 of those votes, but Obama has said he will resign his Senate seat on Sunday, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden is not expected to attend the lame duck session, meaning Democrats would need the support of at least 11 Republicans.
With Bush still wielding his veto authority, the fate of any legislation without White House support would be uncertain.
The auto companies, however, remained hopeful and said they would send top executives to congressional hearings next week to make their case.
A stunning day
for jobs, Dow, deficit
Some really big numbers were posted on Thursday, from jobless claims to foreclosure notices to another up-down day for the Dow.
A report of higher medical costs sends the Tampa insurer's stock to record lows.